Culinary Arts

What Is White Wine Vinegar? White Wine vs. Red Wine Vinegar, and How to Use White Wine Vinegar

Written by MasterClass

May 1, 2019 • 2 min read

It may not be the flashiest item in your pantry, but white wine vinegar brings more to the table than it lets on.


What Is White Wine Vinegar?

White wine vinegar is white wine that has been fermented and oxidized into an acid with a lightly fruity flavor. The distilling process usually takes place in stainless steel vats called acetators that expose the ethanol in the wine to oxygen. The resulting acetic acid is then diluted with water to a palatable acidity, somewhere between 5 and 7 percent. While the provenance of grapes used in something like Italian balsamic vinegar is known (in such case, Trebbiano or Lambrusco), white wine vinegars can be crafted from a blend of wines referred to as “wine stock.”

What's the Difference Between White Wine and Red Wine Vinegar?

Just like white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar consists of oxidized red wine. The most evident difference between them, besides an echo of the tasting notes from their wine varietals, is the color: red wine vinegar imparts a subtle pinkish hue to whatever you add it to. White wine vinegar does not, which is a bonus when using it to pickle or braise foods.

3 Substitutes for White Wine Vinegar

White wine vinegar has an approachable level of tang to its bouquet: not too sour, not too sweet, especially when compared to red wine vinegar, organic apple cider vinegar, and certainly balsamic vinegar. Substituting for it in a recipe depends on the context:

  1. Lemon Juice: While an equal amount of lemon juice will bring tanginess, citric acid provides far less of a punch than acetic acid, so it won’t cut as effectively through richer, savory dishes.
  2. Rice vinegar (or rice wine vinegar) is a good, mild alternative. Learn more about rice vinegar here.
  3. Red wine or sherry vinegar will achieve the right acidity level, with a flavor that’s a bit more robust. Learn more about red wine vinegar here.

5 Ways to Use White Wine Vinegar

  • Brining. White wine vinegar, with its subtle sweetness and clarifying acidity, is a solid choice when whipping up a basic brine for pickling seasonal fruits and vegetables, such as red onion and watermelon rind. Blend it with distilled white vinegar to find the ideal flavor profile.
  • Hollandaise and béarnaise. You can use vinegar to make both traditional hollandaise and béarnaise sauce. White wine vinegar is perfect, or, if you’re like Chef Thomas Keller, champagne vinegar, for a slightly more delicate concoction.
  • Vinaigrette. Whisk 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar with 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, depending on how acidic you like your salad dressing to be. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. If you’d like, add a teaspoon of dijon mustard, or finely chop one small shallot and add it to the vinegar for 5-10 minutes before mixing all the dressing ingredients together for a lift of aromatic brightness and texture.
  • Brightening Recipes. Add a couple tablespoons of white wine vinegar to brighten up fresh side dishes like potato salads, coleslaw, and cucumber salads.
  • Braising. When braising something like chicken breasts, add ¾ cup white wine vinegar to your braising liquid along with 2-3 cups water or stock for a bright acidity that won’t become muddled as it reduces.

Learn more cooking techniques with Chef Thomas Keller here.